Ford started with the swoopy new Thunderbird in '83 and dropped in a 145-horse turbo 2.3 soon after. The 2.3 had been around for years powering Pintos. Then came the radically styled 5.0-powered Lincoln Mark VII.
Next up in Ford's future-think: the SVO Mustang. The trick to making things more European was balance. Make it handle precisely, ride comfortably, and run like a V8 on half as many cylinders. These traits, plus a desire to make the powertrain as smooth as any four available in this country, made SVO head Michael Kranefuss single out the contemporary BMW 328i as a target. Inside and out, Ford did its best to make the '79 Mustang (already six model years old in 1984) look as functional--and as different from the standard issue '84 GT--as possible.
By all accounts, the engineers and designers succeeded. The turbo motor from the T-Bird was treated to an air-to-air intercooler, a knock sensor to compensate for bad gas, and an electronically controlled wastegate, which bumped power up to 174 horsepower at 4500 rpm. Redline was six grand. The intercooler was fed outside air through an offset scoop stamped into the hood.
Smoothness into the boost was not what it might have been, though. Although throttle lag was minimal, the turbo didn't kick in until around 2200 rpm--not quite as low as the torquey 5 litre V8, even in the carburated days. Even so, the sheer horsepower numbers were similar, and the SVO could hit 60 in 7.5 seconds, on its way to a top speed of 128 mph.
The smaller engine weighed 150 Ibs. less than the V8, a good starting point for improving handling. From there, SVO added Koni low-pressure gas shocks, specific springs, bushings and sway bar, as well as Continental forged lower control arms. This arrangement offered an extra inch of front suspension travel with improved ride and handling, and geometry that incorporated a couple of degrees of positive camber helped cornering stability. Out back, a pair of disc brakes were added to stop it, while vertical and horizontal trailing arms kept the 3.45-geared 7.5-inch rear in place. Early 1984 SVOs featured traction bars instead of the tailing arm setup. SVOs were the only commercially available Fox-body Mustangs to come with a standard 5-bolt wheel pattern and Ford installed smooth-faced 16x7s with slots at the edges, wearing 225/50VR16 German Goodyear NCT rubber (the first American 4-passenger car to make 16-inch wheels and tires standard).
Inside the charcoal gray cabin, Recaro-style sculpted buckets (your choice of leather or perforated cloth) offered a manual lumbar support inflator. A three hole steering wheel connected to a revised TRW steering box, and a leather shift boot and knob were included. Borg-Wamer revised the feel of the 5-speed to Ford's specs, and the gas and brake pedals were rearranged for easier heel-and-toeing. The standard Mustang dash was used, but with a twist. Besides the charcoal fussy fascia treatment and full instrumentation including a boost gauge, SVO installed a true 140-mph speedometer but left off the numbers after 85 mph to worm around a now rescinded law.
The sheet metal is what grabs the eye first, and Ford's desire to make the SVO look distinctive came through. Besides the aforementioned hood, which swooped down low enough to leave a narrow air intake slit, new light clusters with flush parking lights and turn signals and a new front bumper incorporated an air dam and fog lamps.
Moving back, we see a pair of '77 Trans Am-style spats ahead of the rear wheels, a nearly flush rear quarter fill panel, and the biplane spoiler that Ford of Europe employed on its V6-powered Sierra XR4ti (later sold in the USA as the Merkur XR4ti). The taillights were also unique and would later resurface on the '93 Cobra. Graphics were happily absent; nothing to spoil the finish on your red, black or silver SVO. What the stylists sacrificed in design purity, they more than made up for in sheer outrageousness.
There was little doubt that Ford was looking to continually improve its flagship ponycar. By the spring of 1985, a number of excellent changes were implemented. Visually, the car finally received flush headlights. Inside? everything was identical. Under the hood, though, big changes were afoot.
Ford used a revised cam that offered 20 additional degrees of intake and exhaust, installed bigger fuel injectors (up from 30 Ibs. to 35), boosted turbo pressure to 15 Ibs., put a dual exhaust behind the single cat and the intake manifold was redesigned.
The horsepower rating jumped to a scorching 205, and torque was pumped up to a healthy 248 ft./Ibs. at a much lower 3000 rpm. A set of standard 3.73 gears helped the stronger engine lose what was left of the turbo lag; revised shock valving, a switch to Goodyear Gatorback tires, and a change in suspension geometry (a running change that began with the '85 model year) helped get that power on the ground. A quicker steering box (15:1,up from 20:1) and revised linkage in the Hurst-shifted T-5.
But demand never met projections. Ford built fewer than 10,000 (their first year's goal) during the entire three-year model run. Nearly half of the 9,844 cars built -- 4,508 of them were built in 1984. The 1985-1/2 cars are the rarest, with just 439 made. The Mustang SVO was terminated at the end of 1986. The V8-powered Mustang GT offered similar or better performance for a lot less money (and was selling significantly better) didn't help the SVO's cause. In the end Ford determined that the greatest competition for the Mustang SVO came from within its own camp: the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. Simple economics dictated that two cars in one small (if growing) niche from one manufacturer was one too many.
For 1987, Ford decided to go with a newly redesigned Turbo Coupe, and the face lifted Mustang (with more than a few styling cues from the SVO, especially in the nose area) was left exclusively for the muscle car performance market. The hot turbo engine survived until 1989, when both the Merkur XR4ti and the Turbo Coupe were cancelled.
Whether succeeding or failing at blending European technology with American know-how for the sports car of tomorrow, the Mustang SVO played a very important role in the history of American performance cars. For Ford, driving enthusiasts and the automotive press, it bridged a gap between the carbureted V8s of yore and the fuel injected, flush-faced beauties we now revere. The Mustang SVO also served notice, that the American auto industry could build something much better than the Granadas and Fairmonts of the time. It proved that there was hope, and that both Ford and real performance--whether on the straights or in the corners--were well on the road to recovery.
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